Home > Agile > Is a clear objective a clear must for success or is the opposite nearer the truth?

Is a clear objective a clear must for success or is the opposite nearer the truth?

If you search for “objectives” and “projects” or some related terms, it is easy to get the opinion that everyone and everything is showing that clear objectives are essential to the success of any projects. If I’m to be a bit mean here, I would say that some seem to think that as long as you have clear objectives , success is a given.

But then again, if you really think about it: clear objectives are not the same as success. I could have the clear objective of running a marathon in a year but without a million different things such as actually preparing, getting enrolled (or measuring the distance oneself), you will not stand on a marathon finish line within that time limit.

And now Philip Runsten, a Swedish scientist actually states in his newest research report that clear objectives can (and probably will) create more misunderstanding than more fuzzy objectives. Being a skeptic, I cannot but salute Runsten for challenging this deep faith in clear objectives which we can find in our modern society.

Runsten has in his research looked at what makes competence intensive work groups successful. I haven’t read his report yet, so this is just what he writes…

He states that in his research he finds that teams that are forming clear and common objectives for the group are less successful than those which lets individuals in the group form their own opinions about the objectives. They all look from their perspectives and try to get their objectives prioritized, making this process alive during the completion of the task. If you instead start with defining clear objectives, these tend not to be questioned, which is negative for the team’s productivity. If you have clear objectives, it is often assumed that these are owned by a leader and not by the group collective.

True or false? Well, I’m going to at least do some reading. The paper (in Swedish) can be downloaded from http://hhs.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:420968.

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Categories: Agile
  1. tom
    2011/11/08 at 7:36 pm

    Interesting post. I’ve never had much success in establishing clear objectives with our team and if we do they tend to be largely ignored, much better to let things evolve as we learn more.

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